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Probationary documentation for academic-related staff

1. Nature and purpose of probation

Probation is a formal arrangement at the start of an appointment, whereby individual members of staff demonstrate their suitability for a particular job within a set timescale and Heads of Institutions carry out induction, monitor and review performance, and provide guidance and training. The term Head of Institution as used throughout this document applies to Heads of Departments, Chairmen of Faculty Boards not divided into Departments (including MML), and the administrative Heads of all other Institutions.

It applies to the holders of all University offices not listed in listed in Schedule C(i) to the Statutes and those appointed in an unestablished capacity in comparable grades.

Consideration is also being given to arrangements for probation in respect of University Assistant staff and for those holding Academic Offices and comparable unestablished posts. (See paragraphs 11 and 12 of the main body of Report of the Council and the General Board on the changes required in the University's current employment practices as a result of the European Directive on Fixed Term Working). Where doubt arises as to whether an academic-related or academic scheme of probation would apply in a particular case, the matter will be decided by the Council or General Board, as appropriate, on the advice of the Personnel Committee.

A probationary period relates to a particular job and will normally be introduced on initial appointment to the University or where individuals move from one job to another with substantially different or additional duties and responsibilities. A Head of Institution may ask the Appointing Body (the body specified in Statutes and Ordinances as having authority for making an appointment to an office) to waive the requirement for probation where there is clear evidence that an individual is capable of performing the duties of the post satisfactorily. This is most likely to arise when members of staff are transferring to another Department or related area e.g. from one administrative job to another where the duties of their new appointment are of a very similar nature to their previous appointment.

Normally, instances of misconduct will be dealt with separately in accordance with the relevant disciplinary procedures.

2. Length of the probationary period

A probationary period will be agreed by the Appointing Body and will vary according to the length of appointment. Most appointments will be for an indefinite period (until retirement) but temporary appointments for a fixed-term may be needed, for example to cover the absence of a permanent member of staff during maternity leave or to complete a specific project within a set time.

The probationary period will be standard for all appointments, as follows:



Period of appointment Probationary period
indefinite period (until retirement) 9 months
2–3 years 6 months
1 year or less 3 months

3. Responsibilities during the probationary period

There are responsibilities for both parties during the probationary period. New members of staff will need to demonstrate that they have the capability to undertake the duties of the role to which they have been appointed. Heads of Institutions, or their authorised deputies, will, in turn, need to be proactive in setting out the requirements of the job, monitoring progress, and identifying areas where further training and development are needed.

The Human Resources Division will provide written guidance on the framework for assessing the various stages of the probationary period. This will include induction (see section 4.1) and regular progress reviews (see section 4.2) using proforma documentation for recording progress. Advice from the HR Consultant should be sought at an early stage if there are serious concerns about performance.

The Head of Institution will make an overall assessment of the individual's performance towards the end of the probationary period and, where this has been satisfactory, will confirm the appointment.

Where the Head of Institution is not able to confirm that probation has been completed satisfactorily, the Appointing Body, on a recommendation from the Head of Institution, will agree what action is appropriate at the end of the probationary period. The range of actions available to the Appointing Body will be as follows:

  • to extend the probation where more time is needed to assess performance, or
  • to authorise the termination of the appointment where performance is unsatisfactory

4. How the probationary period will be managed in practice

4.1 Induction

It is important that the foundations for good working practices are established at the outset. Newly appointed staff will undergo a structured induction programme within the first few weeks of taking up appointment. (A checklist of what to include in induction is currently being developed by the Human Resources Division.)

The person most familiar with the requirements of the job (the line manager or immediate supervisor) will usually have delegated responsibility from the Head of Institution for carrying out induction, monitoring performance and providing guidance on a day-to-day basis. In practice, this is likely to include:

  • ensuring that member of staff knows and understands the main responsibilities of the post,
  • setting out which particular areas of work are to be given priority,
  • drawing attention to deadlines,
  • outlining the standards of work required,
  • highlighting any areas where particular care or sensitivity is needed,
  • ensuring that the member of staff has sufficient information and sources of immediate help and support to take forward the agreed tasks;
  • being available to give informal advice on an on-going basis,
  • assessing training and staff development needs based on the requirements of the job,
  • preparing a training action plan in consultation with the member of staff.
  • arranging for regular progress reviews.

4.2. Formal Assessment of performance

The purpose of assessments at various stages of probation is twofold. They are a means of demonstrating and building on progress made. They also ensure that, in the event of any problem arising, there are clear indications of the difficulties that have arisen and the steps taken to attempt to resolve them.

The format for the progress review will normally be as follows. The level of detail will vary according to individual circumstances. Where performance and progress is clearly satisfactory the formal record is likely to be brief. A more detailed record will be made where specific improvements are needed.

  • the line manager reviews with the member of staff the work done to date or since the last review, addressing competence in carrying out particular duties and capability to perform at a level that meets the operational requirements of the department;
  • member of staff comments on progress to date and specify any areas in which further information or assistance is needed;
  • the line manager sets objectives for the next stage of work;
  • the line manager discusses training and staff development needs with the member of staff, taking the lead in identifying and agreeing a specific action plan.

Progress reviews take place at appropriate intervals — it is suggested that these be weekly during the first month and then monthly if progress is satisfactory — to enable the member of staff to take on progressively more responsibility in accordance with the requirements of the job. The tone of the reviews should be constructive, giving positive feedback on what has been done well and helpful advice on how to make improvements and/or develop aspects of the job. However, where progress has been unsatisfactory, the line manager, in consultation with the Head of Institution, will need to specify the nature of the concerns and the improvements needed, together with details of how these will be achieved. For example, this may involve making appropriate adjustments to the level of supervision, advice and/or support given to the member of staff.

Each progress review is documented, however briefly, with copies signed and retained by the Head of Institution, line manager and individual member of staff. If, at any stage, a third party contributes formally to the progress review this should be recorded and signed accordingly.

When the Head of Institution makes the final overall assessment of performance during probation, the decision to confirm appointment or recommend to the Appointing Body alternative action (see section 3.4 above) will be based on the progress review documentation.

If, exceptionally, during probation, the performance of the individual is clearly unsatisfactory and likely to remain so, the Head of the Institution may recommend to the Appointing Body that the probationary period be curtailed to enable early termination of the appointment.

4.3. Mentoring

At the start of the probationary period, new members of staff will be assigned a mentor by the Head of Institution. The mentor will act as an impartial ‘sounding board’, not linked to the formal progress review process, and may contribute informally to the preparation of a training and staff development action plan.

5. What is the procedure at the end of probation?

Approximately two months before the date on which the probationary period is due to end, the Human Resources Division will send a reminder (Form PERA02/2) to inform Heads of Institutions of the need to make a final overall assessment of the performance of the member of staff. This means that progress reviews for short fixed-term appointments would need to be in place from a very early stage.

Where performance during probation has been satisfactory, the Head of Institution will notify the Human Resources Division (by completing and returning Form PERA02/2) that the appointment is confirmed and the central staff record will be amended accordingly. It will be for the Head of Institution to inform the member of staff concerned that probation has been satisfactorily completed.

Where there have been concerns about the performance of the member of staff, these will have been raised and addressed in the regular progress reviews. Where the concerns have been addressed and the performance has reached a satisfactory level, the action will be as in 5.2 above.

In some instances progress towards successful completion of probation may have been hampered by circumstances beyond the control of all parties e.g. where the member of staff has been absent from work for a substantial period during probation. Where this is the case and there is the prospect of a satisfactory outcome to probation, the Head of Institution can recommend to the Appointing Body an extension of probation. At the end of that period, if progress reviews have been satisfactory, the action will be as in 5.2 above.

In the event that performance is judged not to be satisfactory, despite the remedial actions agreed at the progress reviews, the Head of Institution will inform the individual that the recommendation to the Appointing Body will be the termination of the appointment. Once a decision to dismiss has been made by the Appointing Body, the member of staff will be given notice (see 6 below).

If the appointment is terminated, the member of staff will have the right to appeal, either under the provisions of Statute C, Schedule, Chapter V or in accordance with the disciplinary and grievances procedures for unestablished appointments, as appropriate. The member of staff will be notified in writing of the right to appeal at the time that formal notice of dismissal is given.

Note that the Human Resources Division will send a final reminder (Form PERA03/2) to the Head of Institution fourteen days prior to the probation end date if the appointment has not been confirmed by that point.

6. The period of notice required during the probationary period

The period of notice given by the member of staff or by the Head of Institution following a decision to terminate the appointment during the probationary period under this scheme will be 4 weeks.

7. Monitoring performance once the probationary period is over

The Appraisal process provides a formal means of carrying out continuing performance review. The first appraisal will take place at the end of the probationary period once a decision has been made to confirm appointment and will be part of an ongoing annual appraisal/review process. As this process is intended to be forward-looking, the appraiser will agree objectives and an action plan, in line with the strategic and operational needs of the Institution, that will address longer-term personal training and development needs identified. Updated guidance on appraisal will be issued in due course by the Human Resources Division.